Christianity is under threat in the Middle East. The rapid rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) has heralded a new era of religious intolerance and dogged oppression. ISIS has pushed the Christian minorities in Iraq and elsewhere against the ropes.
Earlier this month, ISIS militants issued the Christian communities residing in the territories under their control with a stark ultimatum; ‘convert or die’. That simple. ISIS holds no middle ground. Its members are diehard fanatics, taking an intransigent hard line against faiths other than their own. They have been branded as ‘savages’ by some. ISIS believes that there is no place for Christianity in an Islamic nation, and so they have forced some of the oldest Christian communities in the world to literally flee for their lives. Many families were reportedly stripped of their possessions as they fled. People were harassed at ISIS-controlled checkpoints, and women reportedly had crucifixes torn from their necks.
ISIS was born out of the ashes of hate and extremist fundamentalism. Its sphere of influence extends to Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. ISIS’ ultimate goal is to bring much of the Muslim world under its direct control. And they have taken the first steps towards achieving this goal. June 2014, a caliphate was proclaimed in the areas under ISIS control, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph, a sort of Islamic head of state
The terror group has established a firm foothold in Iraq. Earlier this month, its jihadist militants purged thousands of Christians out of the city of Mosul, in northern Iraq. Almost 35,000 Christians inhabited the city before the advent of ISIS. Fewer than 3000 remain. The ugly ghost of ethnic cleansing drapes its gloomy wings over Iraq, and beyond.
The significance of the city of Mosul should not be underestimated in the context of the forced Christian exodus. It is one of the holiest cities for Middle Eastern Christian groups. Just across the Tigris river running outside Mosul lies the ruins of the city of Nineveh, a place of great symbolic significance for the Christian world.
Niniveh once stood as the greatest city in the ancient world. It reportedly contains the tomb of the Old Testament prophet Jonah. A shrine built upon this burial site was blown up by ISIS on July 24 because its militants claimed the shrine had become a place for apostasy and un-islamic..
The issue of religious intolerance is nothing new, of course. Persecution in the name of one deity or another has been a sad indictment of mankind since time began, and it will likely continue to be so for as long as people with entrenched beliefs tread the Earth.
There is no easy solution when the problem is one of misguided faith, one of illogical hatred of a fellow man’s own attempts to understand and promote his own creed. ISIS pursues to eliminate, or at the very least, banish Christianity out of the Muslim world. Its fighters have a well earned reputation for intransigence and brutality.
Western powers have so far done nothing to prevent ISIS’ rise to prominence. The Pope has condemned ISIS’ activities, but no further action has been taken thus far.
For the time being, the Christian world and faith remains under threat in Iraq and elsewhere where ISIS imposes its rules.